Spanish-language Faith Formation program success continues

During the past seven years the Hispanic Ministries outreach of the Diocese of Venice has strived to meet the needs of those desiring to be better formed in their Faith through a focused formation program, with hundreds participating each year.

Father Claudio Stewart, Diocesan Hispanic Ministries Director, said this formation program has been recognized as one of the largest Diocesan-level outreach efforts in the nation which directly includes the Hispanic Catholic community.

“Through the last seven years, we have observed the community’s desire to learn, their eagerness to integrate more within our Catholic Faith and their motivation to become more involved as a community,” Father Stewart explained. “They do find the time to participate and make the effort to learn by using the Pastoral Hispana App to access the classes and relevant supporting documents. Their commitment and dedication serve as guidance to continue offering our formation classes year after year.”

The 2023-2024 Formation Program of the Hispanic Apostolate focused on the National Eucharistic Revival, therefore, the theme of the classes was based on the celebration of the Holy Mass. For this purpose, the program utilized a resource from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions titled “The Mystery of Faith: A Study of the Structural Elements of the Order of Mass.”

The benefit of having the formation program in Spanish allows the students the opportunity to better absorb the complexities of the Faith without the extra work of translating the information. This also helps streamline the instruction and allows for a more open discussion. At the conclusion of each program year, those who earned certificates are encouraged to use their new-found knowledge to evangelize in their families and the Parish community.

The Faith Formation classes are divided into five geographic regions of the Diocese to allow easier access to the course. Students are offered the option to participate in-person or online. Instructors included priests, women religious and Deacons. Each level becomes increasingly more sophisticated, challenging the participants to take a fresh look at the Catholic Church.

For the 2023-2024 session, a total of 564 Hispanic adults registered for the latest session of the program and participated in a least some of the session, with 223 earning a Diocesan Certification, meaning they completed all seven sessions and passed a final exam. Diocesan certificates were presented in June at regional locations.

One participant from Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers said the formation program has helped her grow in love of the Universal Church and increased her passion for sharing her faith with others.

With the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, the Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed immediately following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.

The V Encuentro was a multi-year outreach initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with a goal of discerning ways for the Church in the U.S. to better respond to the needs of the growing Hispanic population. The process involved consultations at the Parish, Diocesan, regional and national levels. A final report was submitted to the Vatican in September 2019 with recommendations for inclusive action at all levels of the Church in the U.S. These actions are now being implemented.

The idea behind the initial three-step Spanish Faith Formation Program within the Diocese was to quickly help bridge the gap in formation for Hispanics in the Diocese for whom English is not their first language. This gap had created isolation among some, and the new program became empowering to Hispanic Catholics who often felt they were outsiders in the Catholic Church within the U.S., primarily due to the language difference.

For the coming formation series, Father Stewart said the program will respond to the call of Pope Francis who invites us to dedicate a year to prayer in preparation for the Jubilee of 2025. Consequently, the classes will cover the fourth part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church “The Life of Prayer.”

Other actions taken since the local V Encuentro sessions have encouraged a broader outreach and inclusion in existing Parish and Diocesan events. This means having sessions in Spanish at conferences, bilingual programs, and other steps that express the unity of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

To learn more about other Diocese of Venice initiatives through the Hispanic Ministries Office, please email, or visit

Solemnity honors founders of the Church – Saints Peter and Paul have impact across Church, in Diocese

The Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles on June 29, 2024, the founders of the See of Rome. The Diocese of Venice is blessed to have a troika of Parishes which honor these important saints.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, in a message to the faithful on the occasion of the Solemnity, said they are honored in Rome through their preaching, ministry and martyrdom there. “Saint Peter is the rock upon which Jesus built His Church; Saint Paul was the preacher of truth to the whole world!”

A bold follower of the Lord, “St. Peter was the first to recognize that Jesus was ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God,’ and eagerly pledged his fidelity until death. St. Peter led the Apostles as the first Pope and ensured that the disciples kept the true faith,” Bishop Dewane wrote.

St. Peter spent his last years in Rome, leading the Church through times of persecution and eventually was martyred there in the year 64. He was crucified upside-down at his own request, because he claimed he was not worthy to die as his Lord. He was buried on Vatican hill, and St. Peter’s Basilica is built over his tomb.

“St. Paul’s letters are included in the writings of the New Testament, and through them we learn much about his life and the faith of the early Church” Bishop Dewane stated. He spent his life preaching the Gospel tirelessly to the Gentiles of the Mediterranean world. Eventually imprisoned and taken to Rome, where he was beheaded in the year 67, Saint Paul is buried there in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Within the Diocese of Venice, there is a special devotion to the early saints, with three Parishes which bear their names.

The faithful at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia have been active since the 1880s, with the first Mass recorded in the area in 1882. St. Paul Mission was established in 1910. It became a formal Parish in 1958 for the then-Diocese of St. Augustine. The Parish serves a rural farming community and has a large active program for children and youth. Bishop Dewane dedicated a new Parish church in March 2021. The Parish has more than 2,000 families with Mass celebrated in English and Spanish.

Serving the southern end of the Diocese, St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples was erected in Naples on June 11, 1974, and currently has more than 4,500 families with seven weekend Masses in three languages. In 2019, the Parish Spirit Center, which includes the Parish Hall and offices, was dedicated by Bishop Dewane.

The newest of the three Parishes, Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton, was erected in November 1986 and was one of the first Parishes in the newly created Diocese of Venice in Florida. The Parish now has more than 2,500 families, with a sprawling campus that includes three main buildings which host more than 100 Parish outreach programs. A church roof replacement was recently completed.

Father Mark Heuberger, Pastor for the past 14 years, said the dynamic Parish was blessed to be named after the two early saints. A mural, which is above the altar, depicts the saints and their related symbols, St. Peter with a net and upside-down cross. St. Paul with a sword, a staunch defender of the early Church who died by the sword. There is also an image of Christ and a boat.

As we celebrate the Solemnity, Bishop Dewane concluded his message, saying: “Why not ask Saints Peter and Paul today for their intercession, that we may enjoy a lively faith, a firm hope, and a burning love for the Lord, as they both did.”

Parish Mission and day camp brings delight

St. Michael Parish in Wauchula has been busy! For three weeks in June, the Parish held day camps for children

Between June 3 and June 21, 2024, dozens of children arrived each week at the Parish to take part in a weekday camp which included Mass, prayer, and lots of fun indoor and outdoor activities. Each day began with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and was followed by prayer and then breakfast before everyone transitioned to the nearby St. Michael Parish Outreach Center.

One young boy, Juan, said on June 21, the final day of the third week, that he had lots of fun during the camp. “We prayed to Jesus, and we got to draw and sing and do lots of stuff. It was great!”

Separate camps were for girls, boys and high schoolers, and they were led by the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, women religious who serve at the Parish.

Mother Maria Therese Nikopoia Klobe, Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish, said the goal of each week was to build a spiritual fortitude within the boys and girls, to help them to become more spiritually fulfilled.

“We want them to become more active in their faith life. Therefore, we worked on teaching them ways to receive the Word of God and to communicate with the Lord in their everyday lives,” Sister Nikopoia said. “We want them to think about how they plan to move forward with God at their side, and to really think about how often it is that they pray. They learned that they can never pray too much.”

On the Friday of each week, a Sacred Heart Procession around the Parish property was held with an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the faithful sang and prayed the Holy Rosary. The procession concluded in front of a display near the front of the Church, where the religious sisters led the separate groups of boys and girls in the singing of the Litany of Saints.

News Briefs for the week of June 28, 2024

John XXIII Movement retreat reinforces faith

Members of the John XXIII Movement took part in a follow-up retreat on June 21, 2024, at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte. More than 60 took part in the retreat which served to reinforce lessons previously learned when they joined the Movement. The group is made up of faithful who had been absent from the Church and marginalized from society before being welcomed back by friends and family and have completed the initial welcoming retreat. The John XXIII Movement is a private international association of laity, born to be a movement of evangelization/conversion and to work, helping the faithful return to full and active participation in the Catholic Church.

Incoming Verot student gets head start on high school

Diving into summer learning, incoming freshmen at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers are taking part in the LEAP (Learning Enrichment Academic Program) course.  This unique summer initiative is designed to boost skills in reading, writing, studying, and math, setting our students up for success from day one. The first session took place the week of June 17, 2024, and another session will take place in July.

Parish completes bible study series

St. William Parish in Naples has completed a four-part bible study series with a focus on Ephesians. The study was led by Scripture scholars Jeff Cavins and Thomas Smith, focusing on the “adventure of discovering our Spiritual Inheritance in Jesus Christ.” This is the latest in a series of programs offered at the Parish to encourage the faithful to grow in their faith. For more information about other upcoming programs, please visit

Totus Tuus program reaches half-way point

The Diocese of Venice Totus Tuus summer program has reached its halfway point, inspiring young people to long for holiness, develop a deep desire for conversion and personally renew their faith with a stronger prayer life. The week-long program is visiting different Parishes each week and offering day camp for students entering grades 1 – 6, as well as evening camp for middle school and high school students entering grades 7 – 12. Two missionary teams are going to different Parishes each week. In the first four weeks, the program has taken place at seven Parishes, with the most recent at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, and St. Katharine Drexel in Cape Coral the week of June 24. Five more Parishes will host the program through the end of July including the following: Our Lady Queen of Heaven, LaBelle (July 7-12); Our Lady of Light, Fort Myers, and St. Cecilia, Fort Myers (July 14-19); Our Lady of the Angels, Lakewood Ranch, and St. Peter the Apostle, Naples (July 21-26). To register, please contact the hosting Parish directly. Parish contact information can be found at

Theology on Tap returns at new location

After a one-month hiatus, Theology on Tap has returned with a new location (Big Top Brewing Brewery & Restaurant, 3045 Fruitville Commons Boulevard, Sarasota). About 60 people gathered for the June 20, 2024. The featured speaker was Mother Maria Therese Nikopoia Klobe, Servant of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, and Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, who spoke about making wise choice in all aspects of life. Theology on Tap meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. The featured speaker for July 18 is Father Alex Pince, Diocesan Vocations Director, and the topic will be “The Interconnectedness Between Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Precious Blood of Jesus.” Theology on Tap is presented by the Diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. For more information, contact Andres Prias at or 941-484-9543.

Fourth of July Parade in Ave Maria

The 8th Annual “God Bless America” Independence Day Bike and Golf Cart Parade presented by Ave Maria Parish, 5088 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria, will take place at 10:00 a.m., Thursday, July 4. The celebration will begin in the Piazza in front of the church and will include patriotic songs, a reflection from a veteran, prayers and then the parade that will include bikes, trikes, golf carts, strollers and more. The event is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus of Ave Maria Parish. For further information call 239-348-4725.

Sidewalk counselors in Fort Myers and Naples needed

There is an urgent need for sidewalk counselors and prayer partners to provide coverage to stand as peaceful witnesses for life at the Planned Parenthood abortion facilities at 6418 Commerce Park Drive, Fort Myers, and 1425 Creech Road, Naples. No training is necessary to be a prayer partner – just bring a hat and a rosary. For those interested in counseling, training and necessary resource materials will be provided. In addition, during this process an experienced counselor will be present. Prayer partners and counselors are a vital component in the Pro-Life movement, as they ensure a constant presence in front of abortion facilities, showing that women and their unborn children in crisis are not abandoned in their time of need. To learn more details, please call Mary Claire Dant at 239-200-8117.

Naples Parish celebrates 50th

St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a trilingual Mass and celebration to mark the occasion on June 9, 2024.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the Mass, which included readings, petitions and music in English, Spanish and Creole, reflecting the diverse but unified nature of the Parish. Celebrating the Mass were Father Gerard “G” Critch, as well as numerous priests who have served through the years or are from neighboring Parishes.

“This 50th anniversary is something special,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is a day of prayer; a day we give thanks, glory and praise to God, and it is done in different languages and that is a blessing. Your dynamic Parish personifies this every day.”


Bishop Dewane noted the great good the faithful at St. Peter the Apostle have done, living in a way that Christ is encountered both within the walls of the church and by people in the community, spreading the Good News of the Lord far and wide. Ongoing outreach includes supporting migrant farmworkers, giving back to the needy, being a place of care when hurricanes have impacted the community, and much more.

“As St. Peter’s celebrates 50 years, it is appropriate to look back and reflect upon those who laid the building stones to raise up this Parish to where it is today,” the Bishop said. “We pray for the living and the dead, and for the priests and deacons who have served the Parish throughout the years, grateful for the dedication which has gone into making this Parish what it is today. There is a bright future here and may the next 50 years build upon what has only just started here in Naples.”

Father Critch said the Parish has been blessed for its 50 years and for that he is grateful. “This is a celebration for all who have passed through these doors and have shared in our earthly pilgrimage, we are deeply grateful to you, Oh Lord. Loving Father, may we, as your people, remain faithful to you and your holy Catholic Church until the end of the days. “

St. Peter the Apostle Parish was erected in Naples on June 11, 1974, and has more than 4,500 families with seven weekend Masses in three languages. The founding Pastor was Father Michael Hickey, and the Mass was first celebrated at a local school. The first church was dedicated in 1978 and the current church was dedicated in 1995. The Parish Spirit Center, which includes the Parish Hall and offices, was dedicated in 2019.

At the reception, a video retrospective was shared, offering glimpses into the Parish’s past and letting the current faithful see some of the faces of parishioners who were there at the beginning.

Founding Parishioner Mary Ann O’Neill reflected upon how when the founding Pastor, Father Hickey, arrived, he needed everything, not only a place to celebrate Mass but an altar and more. “These were very simple beginnings. The area of south Naples was kind of wild, but as the area grew, the Parish has grown so much, but we are still the same St. Peter’s.”

Many noted how Corrina Hernandez helped found the Hispanic Ministry, focusing first on farmworkers but later on building up the faith by welcoming them to a Spanish-language Mass. Likewise, the Haitian outreach first focused on supporting farmworkers before bringing the faithful for a Mass in Creole.

“The Holy Spirit has championed the different and diverse cultural communities through the language of love,” Father Critch said. “That is who we are here at St. Peter, one loving community dedicated to the glory of God.”

For the celebration, a buffet of international cuisine allowed everyone to enjoy a variety of delicacies. In addition, there were dancers and musicians in Aztec garb who performed prior to Mass, led the faithful from church to the reception in the Parish Spirit Center, and again showed their talents while everyone enjoyed the 50th anniversary party. Also performing were two bagpipers, as well as choirs representing the three major languages.

Totus Tuus, Parish Catechetical Summer Camp returning

The Totus Tuus Parish Catechetical Summer Camp program aims to inspire young people to strive for holiness, develop a deep desire for conversion and personally renew their faith with a stronger prayer life. Through evangelization and catechesis, Totus Tuus seeks to foster openness to the sacrifices and blessings of the various Christian vocations.

The Totus Tuus program, which is open to grades 1-12, has been very well-received by young people, parents, and Parishes in the Diocese of Venice for the last two years and is returning to the Diocese of Venice this summer, beginning in June 2024.

The first camps open the week of June 2-7, and take place at a variety of Parishes throughout the summer with the final camps taking place the week of July 21-26. All camps are one-week day camps, and programs are divided according to age. The goal of the weeklong camp is to help the children develop a true and lasting longing for holiness. The Five Pillars of Totus Tuus are: The Eucharist; Marian Devotion; Catechetical Instruction; Vocation Discernment; and Fun.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane helped bring Totus Tuus – which means “totally yours” – to the Diocese of Venice in 2022. The original program began in 1987 as a Vacation Bible School program in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. Then, in 2022, the Diocese of Venice launched its pilot program, with great success. The Diocese received many requests from parents to continue the program; which not only has continued, but expanded in 2023 and set the hearts on fire of more than 1,000 youth.

“This program works,” Bishop Dewane said. “Totus Tuus complements what the children learn from their parents, who are the first and best educators of the faith. This is evident whenever I visit a Parish Totus Tuus camp. I am always impressed by the response each child has to the uplifting program. Whether in a group activity, or in a classroom, everyone is clearly excited and alive about their love of the Lord.”

The weeklong program is divided into two sessions, with the day component (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) for students grades 1 – 6, and the evening session (6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.) for middle school and high school students grades 7 – 12.

The younger children participate in four classes each day, attend daily Mass, learn the parts and liturgical songs of Mass, and participate in games, skits, songs, recess and prayer. The older students participate in instruction, small group discussions, quiet meditations, adoration, prayer and fellowship.

Parishes hosting Totus Tuus this year are: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Parrish, and Our Lady of Grace, Avon Park (June 2-7); Ave Maria, Ave Maria (June 9-14); St. Finbarr, Naples, and St. Paul, Arcadia (June 16-21); Epiphany Cathedral, Venice, and St. Katharine Drexel, Cape Coral (June 23-28); Our Lady Queen of Heaven, LaBelle (July 7-12); Our Lady of Light, Fort Myers, and St. Cecilia, Fort Myers (July 14-19); Our Lady of the Angels, Lakewood Ranch, and St. Peter the Apostle, Naples (July 21-26).

Youth are welcome to attend any of the Totus Tuus camps, but registration is requested ahead of time. To register, contact the hosting Parish directly. Parish contact information can be found at

For general questions about the Diocesan Totus Tuus program, please contact Jim Gontis at

Missionaries Wanted!

The Totus Tuus program is still recruiting for a few missionaries to lead the camps! To apply, you must be a recent high school graduate or college-aged man or women who is committed to the Catholic Faith and feels called to share their faith with youth throughout the Diocese. The mission is a nine-week commitment from May 23 to July 27 (excluding the week of June 29-July 6). Application deadline is May 8. For more details and to register, please visit

“Jesus, I trust in You”- Divine Mercy Sunday celebrated

The Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday, completes the Octave of Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the blessing of His continuing presence in our midst. The Gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2024, recalls the encounter between St. Thomas (the doubting Apostle) and Jesus after the Resurrection.

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the mercy of Jesus as reminded to us by St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a religious sister who lived a humble life, to whom Jesus appeared. St. Faustina was born in Krakow, Poland and lived from 1905-1938. She was canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000, who at that time also declared the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. This celebration also honors St. Faustina’s vision of Jesus Christ, and His message of love and peace for the world.

St. Faustina wrote in her diary from private revelation that Jesus told her: “I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy (1109). The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (699).”

The image of the Divine Mercy was created by St. Faustina who was told to paint the image of Jesus as she saw Him. The painting has the saying at the bottom: “Jesus, I Trust in You.” The rays emanating from the Sacred Heart of Jesus represent water (white) – which makes souls righteous — and blood (red) — which is the life of souls, Jesus told St. Faustina.

Many Parishes throughout the Diocese hold Divine Mercy services and several have novenas of prayer leading up to the Sunday. The popularity of Divine Mercy has been embraced by many diverse communities throughout the Diocese.

At St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, Divine Mercy Sunday included the traditional afternoon prayer service in English and Spanish. This included the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a reflection from Father Pawel Kawalec, a recitation of the Divine Mercy Litany, singing of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Solemn Benediction.

The prayer service concluded when the faithful were invited to come forward and venerate the image of Divine Mercy which adorns the wall to the right of the altar and was decorated with flowers.

Alicia Torres attended the Divine Mercy prayer service with her two children and said her prayers were focused on seeking help for family members who need to have Christ in their life more. “This day is about seeking Jesus’ Mercy for ourself and our family and the whole world.”

At St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples, the Divine Mercy celebration included a presentation by Sister Teresa de la Fuente, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (St. Faustina’s religious order).

Pope Francis, during the Regina Caeli on Divine Mercy Sunday, noted that the “fullness of life” comes not from the pursuit of transitory pleasure but is “realized in Jesus.”

In his address, Pope Francis drew upon the disciples, who were despondent and secluded in the Upper Room, “going through the most tragic moment in life,” to showcase how Christ’s coming to them was a deeply transformative moment, one that not only reveals His mercy but also promises a new life.

“The Risen One comes to them and shows them His wounds,” the Pope said. “They were the signs of suffering and pain, they could stir feelings of guilt, yet with Jesus they become channels of mercy and forgiveness.”


Easter Triduum celebrated in Diocese

The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum (March 28-31, 2024) — from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten Season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.

The liturgical services that take place during the Triduum are:

  • Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)
  • Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion (Good Friday)
  • Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Vigil)

Thousands of the faithful of the Diocese of Venice gathered at Parishes for the celebration of the Triduum.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park included the commemoration when Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion prior to His arrest and crucifixion. It also observes His institution of the priesthood. This Liturgy included the presentation of the oils blessed and consecrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during the March 26 Chrism Mass, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, which will be used for the Sacraments in the Parish throughout the year. Later was the traditional washing of the feet, reenacting Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. Following the Prayer after Communion, the Mass concluded with a procession to transfer the Holy Eucharist to a place of repose in the Parish Hall. This action left the tabernacle vacant until the Easter Vigil.

On Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, the faithful at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples participated in the Liturgy which included the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of John. Next was the presentation of the cross, brought forth by the priest and unveiled as the priest sang: “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” and the congregation responded: “Come let us adore.” The faithful were then encouraged to come forward to venerate the cross. This was done by either touching, bowing, or genuflecting.

Either prior to, or after, the Good Friday Liturgy, many Parishes hosted the Stations of the Cross, sometimes led by children or including a dramatic retelling.

For example, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, the Living Stations began in a field behind the Parish church, and then travelled through the neighborhood. The Stations were inclusive to include the languages of the Parish (Spanish, English and Creole). By the time the procession returned to the Parish the crowd had swelled into the thousands.

For the first time, a public Stations of the Cross took place in downtown Venice, starting at Epiphany Cathedral and proceeding into nearby Centennial Park and then down Venice Avenue. Approximately 800 took part, including members of the youth group, as streets were temporarily blocked.

On Holy Saturday, the only Mass of the day is the Easter Vigil

On Easter Sunday, several Parishes celebrated Mass at sunrise while extra Masses were added to accommodate the increased numbers common for this holiest of days.

Many Parishes also hosted fun for children which often included Easter egg hunts either on the Saturday or following a Children’s Liturgy on Sunday.

Deacons encouraged to increase outreach to Hispanic Catholic youth

Several dozen Permanent Deacons of the Diocese of Venice recently gathered to learn how to better serve young Hispanic Catholics, the fastest-growing population both in the Diocese and the nation.

Dr. Hosffman Ospino of Boston College shared practical examples for growth and success in this important demographic in the domestic Catholic Church. He was brought to speak to the Deacons through an invitation from Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

Bishop Dewane said he was pleased Ospino could talk to the Deacons about the needs of Hispanic youth, and tear down some of the misconceptions some have about the Hispanic community in general.

“The Hispanic presence, especially the young people, is not a threat to anyone,” Ospino said. “This is an opportunity, because they are of the same Church. The Church exists to evangelize and right now there is an urgency to evangelize these young men and women so they can become the next generation of evangelizers.”

Ospino praised the Permanent Deacons for answering the call to serve the Church “to go joyfully into the world to proclaim the Good News of the Lord. Because of this, you are the wisdom figure in your Parish communities. Deacons and their spouses are called to evangelize, not to preserve the past, but to ensure the future of our Parish communities.”

Offering a dizzying array of statistics, Ospino said that of the 32 million Roman Catholic Hispanics living in the U.S., about 19 million are 30 or younger. Of those 18 and younger, 94 percent were born in the U.S. and can speak English.

“There is pressure from elders for the younger generation to keep their immigrant roots, versus being Americanized,” Ospino said. “It is a question of cultural background. The only difference is their cultural background,” Ospino said. This means the programs that have worked for the last 25 years won’t work, because the families will pull their children out of any program once the families feel they are not being engaged.”

The answer is to form a partnership with the Hispanic families at the Parish, creating a spirit of cooperation to preach, teach and advocate for the children.

“The idea is to create a welcoming and affirming environment, giving the youth and parents a sense of agency,” Ospino said. “We don’t need state-of-the-art equipment in the classrooms. We need to reach them on the level where they will be engaged and have fun while growing in their relationship with Christ. You must listen to the community and ask for their needs. When you learn what the community wants, focus on one effort, and respond to that well. Know this, if you try to address everything, no outreach exists to do it all.”

Citing a dozen different programs from across the country that have had success in reaching Hispanic youth, Ospino said each serves a niche need within their communities. Some programs offer painting, cooking, music, and poetry classes alongside religious education, while others work on how to grow a relationship with Christ, starting with building better relationships in the household and in the community.

“This can be overwhelming when you are not even sure what will work, but you need to start somewhere,” Ospino said. “Pray together. Eat together. Serve together.”

Praying together can include a community Liturgy of the Hours or praying of the rosary. Eating together means having a Parish fair or festival that celebrates all cultures. The serving together is working in a unified effort to meet need in the community such as feeding the hungry or a clothing drive.

“These are simple, but this approach can work,” Ospino said. “It is you, the Deacons and your spouses, that can make it happen. This can be something that takes place four times a year, and it will grow because these are opportunities to grow as a community together, in the Glory of God.”

The Deacons were impressed by the presentation and noted how the reality of the increasing numbers of Hispanic Catholics in the Church is important to know and information they learned from Ospino will help outreach to this important population.

Bishop Dewane and Ospino encouraged the Deacons to return to their home Parish armed with inspiration and information on how to better connect to Hispanic Catholic youth. The potential to engage and attract more young people to grow in the faith was inspiring!

Sebring Parish marks century serving the Faithful

For 100 years the Faithful of Sebring in Highlands County have been able to call St. Catherine of Siena Parish their home.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for the St. Catherine community on the exact anniversary when the Parish was erected, March 2, 2024.

“Christ is the cornerstone of the Church, but you, the Faithful of St. Catherine, build up His House, you are the living stones,” Bishop Dewane said.

An anniversary is an important time to look at the past, the present and into the future, Bishop Dewane said. The Bishop reflected upon how much the Parish has grown and transformed in the past 100 years while serving the needs of the faithful in the community. The first Masses in Sebring were celebrated in homes by Jesuit priests who would ride horses from Tampa. It was in 1920 when a Mission church in the Diocese of St. Augustine (which encompassed all of Florida at the time), was established in the name of St. Catherine of Siena.

Bishop Dewane also praised all the priests, as well as the religious men and women who served the Parish through the years, who have served the spiritual needs of the Mission and Parish from its beginnings to today, including Father Jose González, who has been Pastor at St. Catherine since 2005.

“We celebrate this anniversary because we are a people of hope,” the Bishop said. “Christ made us to be this way. St. Catherine’s story goes into the present-day world, and into the future. St. Catherine is a family of believers, united in faith and in love of the Lord – to teach, proclaim and celebrate the word of God. This must continue when you leave the walls of the Church and enter out into the community.”

The Bishop also encouraged the faithful to take the time during the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Parish to grow in a deeper relationship with the Lord. “Pause to recommit yourself to live the faith to its fullest out among the people, not just in our homes. Invite those around you to be a part of this anniversary, this celebration of the Lord as a community and in your life.”

The Parish community has grown since its founding, including the establishment of St. Catherine Catholic School in 2008.

“These students are being formed to make a great contribution to our society as men and women of faith who can go out to the public square,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is the blessing of the Lord that the school continues to grow and continues to have the support of the entire community.”

Students from the school served as the Choir for the 100th Anniversary Mass. They were also pivotal in helping to set up the celebratory luncheon which followed the Mass.

Father González said he was grateful for the presence of Bishop Dewane at the important celebration in the life of the Parish. Father also expressed his gratitude to the parishioners who call St. Catherine their home today for their continuing support.

During the reception Father González recited the following prayer:

“To the pioneers, then, who long ago came to St. Catherine Church and whose first thoughts were of Christ and His Church, we humbly pray… We are grateful to those deeds of the past, which are our inspiration for the present and our hope for the future… As we honor the past, we cannot forget the present and the zealous part our parishioners are playing in the glorious progress of the Diocese of Venice, of St. Catherine Church and St. Catherine Catholic School. May all the good work continue as we pray that You, Loving Father, abundantly continue to bless our Diocese, our Parish and our School. Amen.”

The original Parish church was completed in late 1924, and the first Pastor was Father Patrick O’Brien. When the second Pastor arrived, a rectory was added in 1939. Three Victory Noll Sisters served in the Parish from 1956 until 1970. Father Jose Ruiz was named Pastor in 1976, and with his arrival came many changes. A new church was dedicated in 1978 and a new rectory built in 1979. The Parish Hall was constructed in in the early 1980s and the church was renovated and expanded. A new Parish office and youth center were built in 2000 and 2002 respectively. Father González was appointed Administrator upon the death of Father Ruiz in 2002 and has been at the Parish ever since.

Someone who remembers many of the changes at St. Catherine during the past 80 years is Margaret Mercure, who moved to Sebring in 1944 with her young family, following her husband who was in the military during the height of World War II. The couple loved the area so much, they stayed.

Mercure said she has many fond memories of her early years at the Parish, the religious sisters and growth of the area. Her most vivid memory was that there were no bathrooms for women in the original church. Women would need to use the bathroom in the Parish office as the substitute.

“When the new church was built, it was the first thing I checked out,” she said.

Pat Israel has lived in the Parish for 54 years. She received most of her Sacraments there, including First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Holy Matrimony, as did her children.

“St Catherine has been my spiritual home for many years,” Israel said. “It is home.”

As part of the ongoing 100th anniversary celebration, Father González welcomed Sister Nancy Murray, an Adrian Dominican who is also sister of comedian Bill Murray, who used her gift for acting to spread the story of Dominican Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. Transforming herself into the 14th century Saint and patroness of the Dominican Order, Sister Nancy’s one-woman show entertains audiences from across the world with her story of St. Catherine’s fierce devotion and love for God. Sister Nancy offered two presentations to the faithful, as well as to children in religious education classes and at St. Catherine Catholic School.

Happy 100th Anniversary to St. Catherine of Siena Parish!